Sunday, October 21, 2007


181 W 10th St (7th Ave S)

I know the name Bobo makes you think of things like Mr. Burns’s childhood teddy bear and Fijian rugby players, but put those out of your mind. This one is short for “Bourgeois bohemian,” a term for post-yuppies coined by David Brooks in his book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, and the West Village restaurant of the same name is where this sub-class is having dinner. Stand at the corner of West 10th Street and 7th Avenue South, in front of a door marked 181, and you still won’t know where Bobo is. Only after going down some stairs from the sidewalk and catching a glimpse of a menu did I know that I was in the right place.

This is a gorgeous space, with low, beamed ceilings and exposed brick on all sides. It’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a trendy, touristed part of town as outside noise melts away and streetlights give way to taper candles on every table. After the bartender explained the differences between the Perfect Manhattan and the Sweet Manhattan as though Vermouth were his first language, we were prepared for a very special meal.

One of our first courses was the tarte flambée, a regional specialty of Alsace in eastern France that resembles a thin-crust pizza, made with bacon, onion, and crème fraîche. I was thrilled to see this on the menu, as it is the stuff of my Strasbourg dreams. I was disappointed to find that the crème fraîche was next to imperceptible, and noticed that the crust was more puffed-up than it ought to have been. The gemelli pasta with poached egg, asparagus, and truffle oil lacked flavor—specifically that of truffle oil—and was something of a miss as well.

Next up for me was homemade almond pappardelle with roasted porcini mushrooms, speck (seasoned and smoked pork), and parmesan cheese. The fact that the pasta was made with almond flour was an innovative touch and, for me, more than excused the slightly unusual taste and texture. The mushrooms were in large pieces, particularly compared to the tiny shreds of speck—specks, really—and so I kept mistaking the porcini for meat, then fat, before realizing what I was eating. The ensemble got frustratingly less appetizing the more I ate of it. Chicken Grand-Mère, with red wine, mushroom, bacon and mashed potatoes, was our other main, and it bred visions of coq au vin gone slightly awry. It was clearly intended to be the sort of comfort food you would ascribe to someone’s grandmother, as the name indicates, but the grandmothers I know do a better job of seasoning. We decided to skip dessert.

Bobo’s location and aesthetic will probably keep it afloat for quite some time. The service was excellent, the bread basket above average, and we were able to get a table without a reservation after a lovely few minutes at the bar. It is my hope that Chef Nicolas Cantrel and company won’t rest on these laurels and will raise the level of the food up to that of which they are capable.

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